Son Raw is post-everything.
In 2008, just as Caspa and Rusko’s Fabriclive mix exposed the wider world to dubstep’s lowest-brow material, Appleblim was busy splitting the atom in a far more intimate setting. Already attracting attention for his releases on Skull Disco alongside Shackleton, he’d been recruited in a resident spot at FWD, dubstep’s original underground showcase, and used the opportunity to highlight a very different take on the sound. A few years older than rudeboys like Skream and Benga, Appleblim drew on a love of house and techno and a new cadre of producers to create not quite a genre, but a moment where dubstep’s adventurous rhythms and quaking bass met traditional dance music’s drive for sophistication and subtlety. It’s a sound best documented on his Dubstep Allstars mix CD, a time capsule of an era when names like Martyn, 2562, and Ramadanman were at the absolute vanguard of dance music.
Sadly, a combination of brostep’s omnipresence and the trad techno scene’s job security snuffed out this moment’s possibilities far too soon, but with his debut album, coming after a few quiet years, Appleblim is ready to take care of some unfinished business. Life in a Laser certainly isn’t dubstep—there aren’t snares on the three and the tempos and drum patterns are all over the place—but in digging up rave’s past and twisting it into new shapes, the album shows how far Appleblim has come by pursuing that path we last left him on a decade ago.
Life in a Laser’s overarching concept is to explore the possibilities of contemporary rave music, drawing from the UK’s past to create its future. Take the opener, a twitching rolex of UK Funky syncopation, breakbeats, and chirpy synths that never even considers 4X4 techno’s chug. There’s nothing here that’s in thrall to DMZ’s dubby darkness, but there’s plenty connecting it to his experiments on his Applepips label.
“ITWLTGSTOO” meanwhile, harkens back to 2-Step garage both in rhythm and via the ravey vocal sample during the breakdown, but also to micro-house’s ultra-twitchy edits. The album’s great victory is in balancing this pointillist obsession with detail to the rudeness that makes rave music so exciting—there’s plenty of space to get lost in here, but also plenty of rhythmic power to just lose your mind to.
Elsewhere, Life in a Laser incorporates jungle, acid and dub into the mix but thankfully never feels like one of those albums where the producer is desperately trying to showcase his versatility. Instead, the record is a beacon of consistency, striking a mood and exploring it rather than jumping fitfully from one idea to the next.
This synthesis of various rave styles is exactly what morphed dubstep to “bass music” and with current UK DJ-led music in a bit of a rut, now seems like the perfect time to return to this melting pot. Whether that happens or not, Life in a Laser is undoubtedly one of the more interesting and adventurous dance albums to arrive in a long time.